The Cubs and the White Sox have played their final games of the season, which means summer is officially over in Chicago. On to the Bears and fall weather! It also means that the holiday season is right around the corner. So we here at Windy City Travel are busy researching the most magical places to travel this winter.
Even though December tends to be pretty mild in Chicago (as far as a Windy City winter goes), by Christmastime, we’re looking to escape. Plenty of people head south for the warmer weather of Mexico and the Caribbean. But that’s peak season in those destinations, so most resorts will come with big crowds and even bigger price tags. Instead, the agents at Windy City Travel suggest heading to one of these winter wonderlands for your Christmas or New Years travels.
Always dreamed of visiting one of Germany’s Christkindlmarkts but can’t get away to Europe? The Bavarian-inspired village of Leavenworth, Washington, is the perfect substitute. The holiday season kicks off the day after Thanksgiving with more than half a million lights twinkling in the downtown area. Shop the Christmas market for one-of-a-kind German food, crafts, and decorations or check out the Nutcracker Museum and the Gingerbread Factory. If you can’t get to Leavenworth during the Christmas season, it’s still a great destination for winter lovers. The lights stay bright until Valentine’s Day and there are several Cascades ski resorts and the 100-foot tubing hill at Lt. Michael Adams Tubing Park.
This suggestion is from our friendly neighbors to the north. The hub of Banff National Park, this resort town about 1.5 hours from Calgary is beautiful all year-round. But when snow blankets the Canadian Rockies, Banff really comes to life. Skiing and snowboarding are the main draws, but there is tons to do for novice and non-skiers alike. Visitors can explore ice-covered canyons and frozen waterfalls, hit one of the many natural thermal hot springs or spas in the area, or take a horse-drawn sleigh ride around Lake Louise. At the end of the day, relax with a drink at the Fairmont Lake Louise Ice Bar.
If you’re hoping for a white Christmas, Banff is a safe bet. The snow starts to fall in late October and the ski season starts in late November. By the time Christmas and New Year’s roll around, it’s the height of the season.
Nestled high in the Alps, the entire country of Switzerland is essentially a winter wonderland. But our pick for the most magical place to visit this winter is Interlaken. The snow-capped mountains are a haven for skiers and snowboarders, but there is so much more to the area. Take a boat cruise or kayak the turquoise blue glacier waters of Lake Thun and Lake Brienz or hike the valleys where ice crystals cling to the tree branches in a real-life scene straight out of Frozen. A trip to Interlaken wouldn’t be complete without a day trip to Jungfraujoch, aka the highest point in Europe. You can ride the railway all the way to the observatory at the top where there are stunning views of the mountains and Lindt Swiss Chocolate Heaven where you can sample one of Switzerland’s best-known exports.
Just like its neighbor Switzerland, all of Austria is a winter playground. Our travel experts couldn’t pick just one place in Austria, so here are a few of our suggestions: Hallstatt, Salzberg, and Lech. If you’re looking for quaint and laid-back Alpine villages, Hallstatt and Lech are for you. There’s shopping and skiing, but mostly a visit to one of these towns is about relaxing. Pull a chair up to the fire and sip schnapps as you stargaze.
Salzberg is a livelier destination with tons of holiday cheer. Browse the picturesque Christmas markets or learn about pagan holiday traditions like Krampus and Pertchen—the slightly scarier forerunners to some of our Santa Claus folklore. The city is also known for Silvester, the New Year’s Eve holiday where everyone rings in the new year with fireworks and waltzing in the streets.
If you can stand the icy-cold temperatures, the Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival is a must-see. Inspired by the regions traditional carved ice lanterns, this celebration of snow has grown to one of the largest top winter festivals in the world. Sculptors and builders from more than a dozen countries compete to build an entire city out of snow and ice. Last year, the festival’s man-made ice structures spanned an impressive 600,000 square meters (~6.5 million square feet) and included giant illuminated ice castles, Buddha statues, and more than 2,000 snowmen on the Songhua River. The festival officially opens on January 5, 2020, but some attractions will be open for viewing in late December.
To start planning your winter getaway to one of these incredible destinations or anywhere else in the world, get in touch with the experienced agents at Windy City Travel. They make booking travel simple, and their know-how ensures an incredible value on everything from flights and lodging to unforgettable experiences.